Kelp is a nutritional powerhouse packed with vitamins, minerals like iodine, and antioxidants. It may help prevent cancer, promote cardiovascular health, and even reduce fat absorption in the gut.

You already know to eat your daily servings of vegetables, but when was the last time you gave any thought to your sea vegetables? Kelp, a type of seaweed, is full of healthy nutrients that can benefit your health and possibly even prevent disease.

This type of sea algae is already a staple in many Asian cuisines. It’s a natural source of essential:

  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • antioxidants

You may have seen this marine plant at the beach. Kelp is a type of large, brown seaweed that grows in shallow, nutrient-rich saltwater near coastal fronts around the world. It differs slightly in color, flavor, and nutrient profile from the type you may see in sushi rolls.

Kelp also produces a compound called sodium alginate. Food manufacturers use sodium alginate as a thickener in many foods, including ice cream and salad dressing.

But you can eat natural kelp in many different forms, including:

  • raw
  • cooked
  • powdered
  • supplements

Because it absorbs the nutrients from its surrounding marine environment, kelp is rich in:

  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • trace elements

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) say that seaweed, such as kelp, is one of the best natural food sources of iodine, an essential component in thyroid hormone production.

Low iodine levels can lead to:

  • metabolism disruption
  • enlargement of the thyroid gland
  • various complications

It can also:

  • raise energy levels
  • boost brain function

However, too much iodine can also lead to thyroid problems, according to research.

This can happen if people use supplements or consume too much kelp.

Kelp also contains the following vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamin K1: 55 percent of the daily value (DV)
  • Folate: 45 percent of the DV
  • Magnesium: 29 percent of the DV
  • Iron: 16 percent of the DV
  • Vitamin A: 13 percent of the DV
  • Pantothenic acid: 13 percent of the DV
  • Calcium: 13 percent of the DV

These vitamins and nutrients have health benefits. For example, vitamin K and calcium play a key role in bone health, and folate is essential for cell division.

Inflammation and stress are considered risk factors for many chronic diseases. Including antioxidant-rich food in the diet may help prevent them. Kelp is high in antioxidants, including carotenoids and flavonoids, which help fight against disease-causing free radicals.

Antioxidant minerals, such as manganese and zinc, help combat oxidative stress and may help protect cardiovascular health and prevent cancer.

Recent studies have explored the role of sea vegetables in estrogen-related and colon cancers, osteoarthritis, and other conditions. Results suggest that kelp may help slow the spread of colon and breast cancers.

Studies on isolated cells indicate that a compound found in kelp called fucoidan may also help prevent the spread of lung cancer and prostate cancer.

However, there’s no strong evidence that kelp can help reduce the risk of cancer in people.

Kelp is low in fat and calories.

It also contains a natural fiber called alginate. Studies suggest that alginate may help stop the gut from absorbing fat.

A study published in the journal Food Chemistry found that alginate could help block lipase — an enzyme that digests fat — by up to 72 percent. Food manufacturers use alginates as thickening agents in weight loss products, beverages, and ice cream.

Kelp may also have potential for diabetes and obesity, although research is still preliminary.

A study published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism found that a carotenoid compound in the chloroplasts of brown seaweed called fucoxanthin may promote weight loss in people with obesity when combined with pomegranate oil.

Studies also suggest that brown seaweed may influence glycemic management and reduce blood glucose levels. This could benefit people with type 2 diabetes.

Kelp is available in a variety of forms, and people can consume it as a food or a supplement.

It’s best to obtain nutrients from dietary sources, where possible. Kelp can be a healthy addition to a broader, nutritious diet, alongside a variety of fresh vegetables and other unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods.

Ideas for incorporating kelp into the diet include:

  • adding organic, dried kelp into soups and stews
  • using raw kelp noodles in salads and main dishes
  • sprinkling dried kelp flakes onto foods as a seasoning
  • serving it cold with oil and sesame seeds
  • blending it into a vegetable juice

You can find kelp in Japanese or Korean restaurants or grocery stores.

Consuming concentrated amounts of kelp can introduce too much iodine into the body.

This can lead to health risks. For example, excessive iodine can overstimulate the thyroid. It’s important to eat kelp in moderation. It’s not suitable for those with hyperthyroidism.

Kelp and other sea vegetables take up minerals from the waters they inhabit, and studies show they can also absorb heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, and lead. These may be hazardous for health.

To lower this risk, look for certified organic versions of sea vegetables and packages that mention that the product has been tested for arsenic.

Always consult a healthcare provider before beginning any supplementation regimen.